With two kids—one three, one three months—I’ve had little time to read books lately. I’m still reading loads, mind you. But mostly just articles pulled through Feedly and Zite. Finding time to sit down and read long-form narrative isn’t easy. So my books-to-read backlog has been growing.
Recently, I learned about a new audiobook service called—somewhat uncreatively—Audiobooks.com. I found it while searching for a streaming audiobook service similar to Rdio and Netflix (both of which I subscribe to). My thinking: why not listen to books whenever I have the time, such as while taking my sleeping son for a walk in the stroller.
Unfortunately, Audiobooks.com didn’t quite meet my needs, as you basically get one audiobook a month for $15—and I’d like to “read” more than that. But it got me excited about the possibility of audiobooks, which led me to explore books offered through Overdrive by Toronto Public Library. I was initially skeptical, but my wife prompted me to dig deeper, and I’m glad I did. It’s a goldmine.
One of my findings: Switch, by the Heath brothers, who also wrote the excellent Made to Stick. I recently finished it and, overall, was equally as impressed as I was with Made to Stick. While some of the information wasn’t new (in particular, stuff related to ground covered in-depth by Robert Cialdini), it was woven together in a useful framework, and chock full of valuable ideas and stories that made them stick.
So, here’s my very brief summary of how to make a switch:
- Direct the rider (note: the “rider”—basically, the rational mind—and “elephant”—basically, emotional desires—come from the book The Happiness Hypothesis)
- Follow the bright spots: Often, when we’re challenged with solving a challenge, we tend to look for problems that are inhibiting the solution. But there’s another approach: find what is working and try to replicate it. For example, if you want customers to buy more products, you might focus on all the myriad reasons they’re not buying more from you. Another approach would be to identify customers who are buying more from you, and see why it’s working. Then try to replicate it.
- Script the critical moves: “Eat healthier” is a vague statement with a lot of wiggle room. (Especially since what’s considered healthy differs depending on which fad diet might be popular this month.) “Drink two glasses of water every day as soon as you wake up” is a specific action. Often, people get stuck in analysis paralysis, or get overwhelmed with options. To overcome this, script the critical moves: tell them exactly what to do, and make it specific, with black-and-white edicts that leave no wiggle room.
- Point to the destination: What does success look like? Paint a clear picture of what will happen if people act out the critical moves. For example, continuing with the healthier eating theme, you could have them purchase an outfit that’s the size they want to fit into, so they can clearly visualize what success will look like.
- Motivate the elephant
- Find the feeling: If, like me, you work in marketing, you understand this implicitly. You can’t rationally convince people to change their behavior, or do what you want them to do. You need to make them feel something. Once you hook them with feeling, you can talk to them intellectually. Exactly what the feeling is will depend on the change you’re trying to accomplish. If we stick with the health theme, telling people “eat healthier or your cholesterol will go up” won’t be as effective as talking to people about how sad it would be for them to die of a heart attack and miss their children’s graduations and weddings, and the birth of their grandchildren. A better line for a campaign might be: “Cut out red meat. Your grandchildren want to meet you.”
- Shrink the change: One of the great examples in this book—and there are many—talks about a study of customer loyalty cards that found a card for a car wash requiring 8 stamps for a free wash performed worse than a card requiring 10 stamps but with 2 pre-stamped. (That’s a mouthful. Sorry. No time for much editing these days either!) The reason? Big changes spook the elephant. While you still needed 8 washes to get a free wash, in the former case you needed to fill 100% of your stamps, while in the latter you were already 20% of the way there. Going back to our health examples, we might ask people to eat just one more fruit per day. It seems like a small thing, but it’s the kind of change that’s easy to do, and ultimately small changes can snowball into big ones.
- Grow your people: This topic is one that dovetails with Robert Cialdini’s discussions of commitment and consistency. Just as you can make change seem easier by shrinking it, you can also make it seem easier by growing the people who will tackle it. A lot of this comes down to identity. For one thing, people who think of themselves as capable of making change are more likely to make it. So, for example, your company can rebrand everyone in the organization “change engineers” or “innovators,” rather than the dull “employees.” Another key point here is, as Cialdini noted, that people will act in ways that are consistent with their identity. So if you find the bright spots (see above), and point out to people that they have previously done things in alignment with the changes you want to make, they will subsequently be more likely to make similar changes. For example, again going back to the topic of health, if you give people a FitBit that shows they’re already hitting 7,500 of their target 10,000 steps a day without every stepping foot in a gym, they’ll start to see themselves as physically active and be more likely to walk the extra steps to hit the 10,000. (This example also illustrates that the information helps shrink the change, because they were already 75% of the way to their goal and didn’t even know it.)
- Shape the path
- Tweak the environment: The Heath brothers repeat, and rightfully so, that what often seems like a people problem is actually a situation problem. So if you can change the situation—and especially the environment—you can often change people’s behavior. A simple example for health is simply eliminating all junk food from someone’s fridge and cupboards to make it more difficult for them to eat unhealthy snacks. Less willpower is needed when temptation has been removed.
- Build habits: It can take time to create habits, which means changed behavior can often slip back. However, there are ways to instil instant habits using “action triggers.” For example, in the book, the Heath brothers talk about a safety supervisor at a manufacturing plant who painted a blue line around the perimeter, within which safety gear had to be worn at all times. The blue line acted as an action trigger, prompting people to put on their safety gear habitually. In relation to health, an action trigger could be setting out your gym clothes the night before, prompting you to put them on when you wake up and head to the gym.
- Rally the herd: This topic also overlaps with Cialdini, who talks about the importance of social proof in influencing people’s behavior. Basically, we look to others for behavioral guidance, and do this more often when things are uncertain. Since change creates lots of uncertainty, people will look to others and see how they’re reacting. If nobody else is making the change, you can be pretty sure it won’t catch on. For this reason, you can’t just think about individuals when trying to create change. You need to think about social cues that people will give to each other, and ensure alignment. For example, if we wanted to influence 40-year-old men to see their doctor for a cholesterol test, we could promote something like, “80% of men 40 and over see their doctor for a cholesterol test—have you?” Perhaps we could also use a social media campaign with checkins at the doctor for a cholesterol test, demonstrating that this is something people’s friends are doing.
All in all, Switch was a worthwhile read—um, I mean, listen—and I’m thrilled that audiobooks can allow me to start consuming great books again. I’m now working my way through Superfreakonomics, so I may have another blog post book review coming soon.